March 31, 2009

Grand Design

To answer the Maven's question about where I was yesterday: The software company I work for has an uncommonly short release cycle. We only have eight weeks of development to put out a new version. Since my product is fairly in demand, this means I write a lot of designs at pretty frequent pace.

This work is subject to phases, which are magnified by the compressed release cycle.
Phase I: I just finished the designs for the current update and it's time to start thinking about the next update but I'm not quite ready yet. I hover between two updates and poke at a few things but it's hard to drop the topics that have claimed my attention for the last eight weeks and get started. I tend to be a little bit depressed and out of sorts during this phase, unconnected and drifting. Maybe even a little bit burned out. The clock is ticking and I'm not in the mood. I'd rather write articles and fold laundry. Fortunately, this phase tends to be short.
Phase II: I've started the designs for the next update but there are some questions from development and other groups around the current update so my attention is divided. I force myself to make steady progress but haven't really hit my stride yet. I don't yet have a stake in the current design beyond the obvious one that someone pays me to work on it. This is a restless, slightly irritable phase but reasonably productive.
Phase III: Something clicks and suddenly the design owns me. Maybe it's something someone said, or maybe the design has just reached a critical mass, but the different design threads pull at me all the time, insisting that I resolve them into a cohesive pattern. It's not enough to just design a business process, you have to be the person using it and know - really know - what they will do and what mistakes they are likely to make and your design has to help them not make these mistakes. Expertise is important but will only take you so far - you also need empathy. Empathy makes me grumpy and hungry so I'm more likely to butt heads with anyone who questions my design and eat cookies during this phase. When I'm in the throes of design I may not post anything for several days at a time because most of my creative energy is channeled into this relentless chattering monkey on my back.
Phase IV: I'm 95-98% done. I've crossed some sort of design threshhold where the pattern has integrity and holds together but that last 2-5% still needs to be done. It's usually pretty boring. Around this time the current release is ready for testing and that's boring, too, because computers take so long to catch up with thoughts, but also satisfying because this is where a design comes to life. This last phase usually only requires a small part of my attention so my mind starts focusing on other topics again. Unless I feel that the overall design is threatened, the snarling diva within keeps her head down and I am ready to make compromises like a rational adult.
So, generally speaking, when I don't post I either have nothing to say (on those rare days when the Germans don't do anything weird or funny at all) or I'm in Phase III.

March 28, 2009

On Concerts and Original Sin

Ralf has been home since Thursday and Thursday night we went to a concert. It was fun although the hall was totally packed and at 5’8’’ I’m one of the shortest people in Germany. I occasionally meet someone shorter than me but they always turn out to be half French. Mind you, being short was a huge advantage on the German dating scene before I got married but kind of a bummer at a standing concert. So I didn’t see much peering out from behind everyone’s elbows and the guy right in front of me was unfortunately wearing a wool sweater and smelled like a moist sheep but the sound was good.

Domestically Disabled Girl recently posted about trying to figure out meaning and God’s plan for us. It was a good, honest post and some of the comments are worth reading as well, especially mine.

My take on God’s plan and free will for those of you who may be interested:

The chaotic, impermanent nature of the universe ensures that things will happen to us, some good, some bad. We may be able to influence some of these things but we don’t control the changing nature of the universe and we can’t see into the future so the best we can hope for is to delay the inevitable.
Free will comes into play when we decide how we will respond to things that happen. For example:
When bad things happen, will we grow, evolve and become better people or will we retreat into bitterness, fear and regret?

When good things happen will we become more vain, cocky and clingy or will we filled with humble wonder and gratitude that something like this could happen to us and want to share our good fortune?
That, my friends, is what we control. Nothing else.
Unfortunately there’s a catch – the cards are stacked against us. The human mind has limited perception and craves material things. And not only that, we are also programmed to seek stability and permanence in an unstable and impermanent universe. In other words, our neural wiring makes us dissatisfied and suspicious of what's around the corner.

(Bit of a crap design, really. Kind of like Blackberries: Your goal is to make a call but we’re going to make it really, really hard for you.)

I believe our work here is to try to rise above our humble beginnings and (remember, I design software) exceed the parameters of our design. Not that I'm working very hard on this in my own case but I do keep making mental notes to get started.
Now here's the interesting bit: there has never been anyone who has not committed at least one of the seven deadly sins (you know, greed, lust, something, something, envy, gluttony, something) because having a needy physical form combined with a primitive, unruly brain doesn't give you any choice. So in a way, just having a physical form is a sin.
Which could mean that Adam, not Eve, carried the original sin because he had the first human form.
Heady stuff, huh? Maybe they’ll let women be priests now.
To borrow an idea from the late great Isaac Asimov, I sometimes picture a scientist watching a petri dish to see if mankind is one of those parasites that thoughtlessly destroys its host and itself in the bargain or else can turn into one of those good bacteria that help the entire organism.
We are the means by which the universe seeks consciousness. And if we fail I believe that God will be bummed, like any creator whose experiment failed, but will not queer the experiment by influencing the outcome.
Thanks for all the great advice. We will definitely be signing K up for Ethics next year. With me as her homework buddy she'd probably fail religious studies.

March 26, 2009

The plot thickens...

If you haven't been following the story so far I recommend reading the previous two posts.

Plot summary: We have to pick a religious track for K's school next year. The hitch is that she gets to pick 2 friends to stay with and they have to be either Catholic or Athiest/other because the Protestants will be in a different class. We will probably sign her up for Ethics class rather than Catholic or Protestant studies but it's not so simple. . .

A final note: I've been using the word 'Athiest' but the better word choice would probably be 'Other' since that's the choice offered to anyone who is not Catholic or Protestant.

Now that that's cleared up, the plot thickens. If we were all just a little prettier and sluttier this could be an episode of Desperate Housewives. . .

I got TWO more calls yesterday.

The first was from Tina's mom. Remember Tina the Athiest? Well, it turns out not so much.

At first I thought she wanted to lock in the K, Celia and Tina trio for the Ethics track but no - she was calling to let me know that Tina really wants to be with Celia but not K. Little Tina prefers another little girl who is Protestant so Tina's mom is also considering Protestant studies.

It suddenly occurred to me: OMG, she's warning me off!!

I heard her out and refrained from mentioning that Celia's mom had called me and no mention had been made of the formerly athiest Tina.

Later Leia's mom called. You may recall Leia as the Protestant girl whose religious affiliation has been causing all the trouble (unless, or course, you take the viewpoint that we are causing it with our heathen ways).

I found Leia's mom extremely pleasant and felt sad that we might have to separate K from Leia. They aren't very religious, either, but after much discussion thought Protestant studies would be a rounding experience for Leia. The hitch is that Leia really, really wants to be with K and the feeling is mutual.

Anyway, Leia's mom was torn by the idea of ethics v. Protestant studies. Leia's dad was less torn - in the background I could hear him yelling, 'My God, just sign her up for ethics and be done with it!'

I still want K to do Ethics, mainly because I'll have to help her with homework and I don't think I'm up to explaining the Bible. The question is, can we persuade Leia's parents to join with us?

And is it ethical to do so?

Spiritual and social fates may hang in the balance. . .

March 25, 2009

What will we do?

What indeed?

Yesterday we learned that German school kids are separated by religion. And not the interesting religions, either. You have to choose between Catholic (yawn), Protestant (really just watered-down Catholics) and Athiest.

Actually, the Athiest kids get to study ethics, which sounds kind of cool.

The kids aren't totally segregated - basically, there are two groups of Catholic kids that share learning space with either Athiests or Protestants, which we can either regard as a practical recognition that most kids happen to be Catholic or as a Catholic infiltration (since the Athiests and Protestants rarely come into contact with each other).

Supposedly in urban areas with a higher concentration of other religions they offer additional classes. Just not out here in the Catholic burbs.

What will we do? you ask.

Ralf and I discussed it during his brief stopover home between California and Ireland.

First of all, he thinks religious studies are cool and we should all be more informed about different religions because this is such an important topic for so many people.

Fair point.

And who knows, maybe if more people treated religion like an academic topic rather than a purely spiritual one, they would be less likely to elect socially intolerant fiscally irresponsible environment ravaging Republican war mongers just because the church likes their stance on gay marriage.

(I know, it's hard to get a sense of how I feel about things.)

Next I pointed out that there aren't many hours in the absurdly short German school day and I'd prefer our kids to spend that time on reading, writing, math and science and he said why don't I run for Minister of Education.

I'm pretty sure that was sarcasm, which is part of the German marital benefits package.

But then, when I broached the topic of possibly enrolling K in Protestant studies to be with Leia, he got all huffy, like putting kids into religious groups at school was my crazy idea.

Ralf (bristling with indignation): 'Are you kidding me? We're not signing K up for some religion we have nothing to do with just so she can be with some kid she probably won't even like next year!'

No argument from me. I mean, OK, I did make some snarky comments about how I'm not the German here but we were basically in agreement by this point.

Anyway, the upshot is that we'll be going with Ethical (Athiest) studies next year and it remains to be seen if Celia's Catholic mom will throw her lot in with Leia (who is Protestant) or with us.

And Tina the Athiest.

March 24, 2009

Choosing my religion

The phone rings. It’s Celia’s mom – Celia’s a 5-year-old girl in K’s class.

She wants to know what religion I plan to select on K’s school registration.

Me: ‘Excuse me?’

Celia’s mom: ‘Well, you know that when you register for school each child can choose to be in the same class with 2 other kids but they split up the kids based on religion.’

I did not know this.

Me: ‘Excuse me?’

Celia’s mom (patiently - she's quite nice, really): ‘They split the kids up based on whether they’re Catholic, Protestant or Aethiest.’

Me:Excuse me?’

Celia’s mom (after a pause): ‘Would you prefer to speak English?’

Me: ‘No, you just surprised me.' And this conversation would be even weirder in English. 'Er. . . did you just say that the kids are split up into religious groups? In school?’

Celia’s mom: ‘Yes.' I can sense her nodding over the phone. 'Most of the kids are Catholic so there’s one group of Catholics and Protestants and one with Catholics and Athiests.’

A little background on this: Although German grade school is typically over by lunchtime, which creates enormous problems for working parents, they spend an hour of this precious time on religious studies.

Celia’s mom: ‘Anyway, Celia wants to be with K and Leia but Leia’s Protestant.’

I’m briefly tempted to say we’re Jewish or Muslim but control myself. Shut up, you're not funny, I tell myself sternly.

Me: ‘We're probably Aethiest. We don’t really go to church. I think my husband might be Protestant, though. I’ll ask him when he gets back.’

Celia’s mom: ‘Or we could go with Tina. She's also Athiest.’

I try to picture the athiest Tina.

Me: ‘Um. . . yeah. Sure. Tina would be good.’

Celia’s mom: ‘Let’s touch base over the weekend.’

Me: ‘Absolutely. Let’s do that.’

March 22, 2009

Follow up on various items

First of all, thank you Lawyer Mom for the Kreative Blogger award. However, instead of nominating other blogs (since I recently did two rounds of nominations) I recommend you check out the people who follow this blog. They all have great blogs of their own, not to mention excellent taste.

I'll write about things I love in a separate post (such as Republican bashing, so fun now that it's not a threat to national security any more) because I want to close the loop on a few open items today:

1) My mouth - All better now. The dental surgeon was very pleased when he removed the stiches and patted me on the shoulder because I did such a good job healing. He also said there was no sign of necrosis, a possibility I am glad he kept to himself until after the procedure. The roof of my mouth is still a bit numb but that's normal. So if anyone ever wants to know about gum grafts and the Maven for some reason isn't available, I'm your girl.

2) K's promise to sleep in - She did keep her promise but since then L's been getting up with me every morning so my days have been off to an earlier than usual start. I'm not complaining, however, because they've been really good this week while Ralf's been away.

3) Ralf - He's coming back tonight but then flying to Ireland for two more days tomorrow morning. Then we're all done with travel for a while.

4) My US residence and tax status - Technically we are no longer California residents although we left a lot of our money in California to tide them over thanks to AMT. We will also be paying 2008 taxes in the US and California since we didn't move back to Munich until September. Sadly, California does not yet (to my knowledge) have a tax treaty with Germany so there will be some double taxation as well.

Therefore I still reserve the right to rant as a California tax payer.

Oh, and I paid California property tax on a house until 2002 and income tax when I sold the house.

Anyway, I think I've paid back my modest childhood medical expenses by now, with interest. But regardless of my situation, which is somewhat unusual, a forward-thinking country invests in its children. A country that is run by people who think it's OK to get huge bonuses for poor results doesn't.

Where I stand

When I started school my mother was divorced and unemployed, although she received some financial support from my grandfather. Her unemployed status entitled me to various school subsidies, such as a hot lunch, and other types of subsidies as well, including health care.

Although I was not a sickly or accident-prone child, I had a dust allergy and the state paid for a vaporizer for my bedroom and weekly shots in my backside. Today I am allergy free.

I also had a slightly crossed left eye, which was corrected surgically. Today I can cross my left eye as a party trick, but can also stop crossing it.

I was flatfooted and the state put me in corrective shoes. Today my feet are still pretty flat but my knees and back are in better shape than Ralf's.

As I recall, vaccinations were also given in grade school, free of charge.

And finally, I lisped until I was about 10 and the state of California paid for a speech therapist to work with me until I stopped. You can still hear it today if you listen for it but it's tolerable.

Then I went to a fabulously expensive boarding school for seven years, care of my grandfather, but that's not really germane to the point I'm trying to make here.

When it was time for college, Grandpa said I was on my own but the killer combination of poor and valedictorian qualified me for several tuition and board scholarships.

Same deal in graduate school, although by that time need-based scholarships were pretty thin on the ground.

Today I'm a healthy law-abiding middle-class tax payer. Real salt of the earth.

My grandfather's support probably launched me into a higher income bracket. But it was the state that made sure I didn't catch polio or tetanus and corrected potentially disfiguring problems that my mother might not have found out about in time if not for active state subsidized pediatric care. Although she was pretty vigilant so who knows.

Would my grandfather have footed any hospital bills for me? Certainly. I was one of the lucky ones in that respect. But what if my grandfather hadn't been able to help out? I shudder to imagine myself today with a crossed eye, a limp, a chronic cough and a lisp.

My point: The US government treated me as a worthwhile investment, which is now paying off. I'm thinking that California would have gotten fewer tax dollars from me over the years if these problems hadn't been corrected early on.

And they not only get my tax dollars, they also get Ralf's, so they doubled their investment. I'm like a twofer.

Ralf, by the way, is as thrilled as I am to help pay for AIG bonuses.

Obama's pretty busy right now trying to get his budget passed and has more or less glossed over the AIG bonuses in order to focus on the big picture. He's right, too, that AIG bonuses are low on the list of American problems right now.

But he's also partly wrong because in many ways the AIG bonuses ARE the big picture.

I'm a conservative Democrat. What this means to me:

I don't think my tax dollars should buy flat screen TVs for crack moms BUT I do think their kids should get hot lunches and a chance to be something when they grow up.

I don't think I should have to pay for a fat smoker's third triple bypass but I do think every child should get the vaccinations and basic medical care they need.

I don't want Congress telling me who I can marry but I do believe the government has a vital role to play in creating opportunities and shaping desired behavior.

And finally, I think it's fine that an executive earns more than a garbage collector but I don't think it's OK if the difference in pay is 1:1000.

(Unless, of course, the exective in question did something like build a company that employs several hundred or several thousand people. Just sitting in management meetings looking important and shifting the odd worthless asset doesn't cut the mustard for me. )

For me the AIG bonuses are a microcosm that highlights everything that's gone wrong in the US since Regan sold people his fake 'Father Knows Best' persona. It's about greedy people sticking their hands in the till not because they earned it - say, with a healthy company - but because they can.

And damn it, $200 million is a heck of a lot of scholarships and vaccinations.

I remember one of my HS teachers explaining that a robust middle-class is what makes a country strong. That was the eighties and we were pretty strong back then.

How strong are we now? How strong will we be in ten years? Twenty?

This is the big picture that President Obama is working toward and I support that.

But to me what's happening at AIG is part of that big picture.

March 21, 2009

Fun with underwear

During my recent business trip to California I bought K some new underwear. Her old ones were getting a bit small and in some cases, er, tatty.
So I bought her a 6-pack of princess underwear and a 6-pack of brightly colored underwear with frogs on them.
Although L usually inherits K's old clothes - which also extends to undergarments, while I can still get away with it - I also threw in a small 3-pack of Little Mermaid underwear for her.
K LOVES her new underwear. Every morning and after school she lines them all out lovingly on the floor, admires them, caresses them, talks about them, wears them on her head and tries to decide which gleaming new pair she likes best.
She even invented a memory game with them, where she puts them upside down and you have to guess which princess or frog is on the back.
I guess it's been a while since she had new underwear.
She was so excited about them that I worried about L's reaction when she got her measly 3 pairs. But my youngest baby was surprisingly OK with with her 3 pairs and seemed pleased and touched that she got any new underwear at all.
But what really made L happy was when I presented her with all of K's old underwear. Even the tatty ones. She did a little jig of delight around her new pile of old underwear.
I sense that somewhere in there there's a lesson for all of us but I can't quite find the right words. I keep coming up with cynical stuff like, 'It's not the quality, it's the quantity,' and 'All you need is old underwear.'
But I think there's a deeper lesson here about being happy with what you have.
Any suggestions?
And Kristina, I'll let you know how that college thing pans out.

March 20, 2009

Now, that's a little more like it...

The House actually passed a bill to tax AIG employee bonuses at 90%, which applies to anyone who got a bonus and earns more than $250K a year.
Putting aside my surprise that the House can actually agree on something quickly (328-93!), this news puts a spring in my step.
Should the President have known about this earlier and worked toward legislation that should have prevented the bonuses being paid in the first place?
Probably. Although do your people tell you everything you need to know?
Does this represent a dangerous precedent of random taxation to promote political will?
Absolutely. But except for the 'random' part, that's what government is supposed to do.
Is extreme taxation legislation a little bit scary for non-welfare folks, given the Democrat's general attitude of 'tax the rich and give to the poor?'
Well, yeah, kind of.
Is it possible that this entire fiasco was engineered as a political move to foster outrage and demonstrate action, or perhaps distract the American people from something more serious (like American tax dollars being used to shore up foreign banks)?
But today I don't care. It just feels good that someone finally got slapped on the wrist for fiscal irresponsibility and highway robbery.

March 19, 2009

Cup of Joe

What do you suppose these pictures have in common?

Lately I've been getting up an hour early so I have a little time for myself before the kids come. If they don't sense my awakeness and general availability this works well.
It's lovely really if you don't focus on the missing hour of sleep. I make some strong imported Pete's coffee, fire up my computer and check my email. This is also when I read the blogs of people who follow my blog and respond to the thoughtful and/or funny comments people have made on my blog.
The rest of the day is hectic with work, housework, kids and calls. But mornings are nice and quiet and I spend them with you guys.
So I was a little dismayed this morning to hear K creeping downstairs about 5 minutes after I got up. I tried to hide it because yesterday I had work-related calls in the afternoon (as opposed to after the kids go to bed) so I could undertand her needing a little extra attention. But I did explain to her that early mornings are my special time and tomorrow I want her to stay in bed until at least 6:30.
She solemnly agreed to this but here's the problem: she's discovered all of YOU.
When she came downstairs I happened to be reading something on Tara's blog. Tara's a California girl like me living in Denmark with her husband and four kids and she posted a slideshow of her kids feeding pigeons. K spotted this immediately, usurped my chair and spent the next 10 minutes watching Tara's kids feed pigeons while I sat grumpily off to the side itching to type.
Then she wanted more: the Maven's avatar, Gracey's pictures of Athen's, Lucy's sleeping cat, Patty's son dressed as a leprichaun, R's American Idol pictures, Lawyer Mom's pictures of Saturn and the mean teacher, Salma Hayek's cartoon boobs, she wanted it ALL, baby.
When she asked me to read Debbie's Moobs post out loud, however, I balked.
So.... any bets on whether she'll keep her promise tomorrow?

March 18, 2009

It figures

I was planning to write a post called, 'Tax the Bastards!' but once I wrote the title I felt there was nothing more that needed to be said.

OK, I lied. I did actually end up blogging about it on Working Girl, which is my other blog.

And now for something completely different. There was a brief 'thing' going around Facebook and the Blogsphere where you create your own album cover based on threee random inputs from the Web. Here are the rules if you want to try it:

1 - Go to "wikipedia." Hit “random”or click here. The first random wikipedia article you get is the name of your band.
2 - Go to "Random quotations"or click here.The last four or five words of the very last quote of the page is the title of your first album.
3 - Go to flickr and click on “explore the last seven days”or click here. Third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.
4 - Use photoshop or similar to put it all together.

It never quite took hold because the results weren't that great for most of us. For example, here is mine:

Isn't that totally lame???

But not everyone failed. For example, Kristina got this:

It figures.

Sort of apropos, although different, my favorite new word is 'moobs.'

March 17, 2009

Obscure legal phrasing

Sorry, everyone, but the post I wrote this morning about yelling at other people's kids confused a lawyer, who couldn't tell which kid belonged to whom.

That seems like a bad sign.

The good news is that her comment lured me over to her latest post, which is very funny.

Anyway, here's a quick guide to the characters in the following story:

K: My oldest daughter, who is 5.

L: My youngest daughter, who is 3.

J: A 65-year-old Bavarian man in a 4-year-old girl's body and somebody else's child.

Other people's children

J is an elflike 4-year-old girl with the personality of a grumpy old Bavarian man. She tells everyone what to do regardless of age or status and is free with personal criticism as well. She also has her childish side and loves to throw herself on the floor and scream. She pushes and hits other kids, too, when she doesn’t get what she wants, which is pretty much all the time because what she secretly wants is a beer, a Schweinebraten and a cigar.

Her mother, a petite, gentle person, is no match for J and also busy with a new baby, a gorgeous plump baby with adorable blond fuzz that smiles at everyone. The mom has difficulty disciplining J, which may be because J knows she's 65 years old and isn’t going to take any direction from some woman in her early 30’s.

I know what you're thinking: J is jealous of the baby. But she was like this before the baby, too.

J admires K, who is popular and twice her size, but considers L to be 'just a kid'(although she’s much closer to L’s age than K’s). So her comments to L are pretty much along the lines of telling her she can’t play, can’t come through the secret entrance, can’t come in, etc.

L mostly ignores J but yesterday as she was trying to follow J and K into the school for gymnastics J tried to shut a heavy door on her. I looked up at L’s cries to find her pinned in this massive door with J pulling it shut as hard as she could.

So, I don’t know what your philosophy is on yelling at other people’s kids in a highly public setting. Mine tends to be that I don’t appreciate other people criticizing or yelling at my kids so I don’t generally yell at their kids.

But when I saw L stuck in that door I yelled. Oh, did I yell, I surprised even myself. I don’t think J has ever been yelled at like that. If I do say so myself, I can really yell and when I finished she was shaking like a leaf and swearing it was an accident.

I almost believed her and felt a bit bad afterwards, since L didn’t seem to be harmed.

On the other hand, it might have been good for her. J, I mean, not L. I saw contrition in J's eyes. Or at least, shock masquerading as contrition.

I'm not sure her mom appreciated it but she, um, didn't say anything.

My girls know I can yell - especially when one of them does something that can get someone hurt - and they watched all of this in thoughtful silence, which is pretty much what they do when I yell at them, too.

K’s judicious comment later: Nice one, mom.

Me: Er. . . thanks, sweetie.

March 16, 2009

Update on Ralf

You guys are great! Thanks for the support.

Ralf, by the way, speaks perfect, accent-free English. You would never know he's German if it wasn't for his insightful observations about Americans.

Or when he suddenly busts out into fluent German, that also lets the cat out of the bag.

March 15, 2009

Ralf on the road

It’s Ralf’s turn to go back to Cali for a week and I am alone in a cold land where I speak like a precocious twelve year old who unexpectedly wants to debate economic policy with the grown-ups.

I did have a small cultural breakthrough today while driving Ralf to the airport, however. I was lamenting about the blank expressions I always get from Germans whenever I launch into a detailed anecdote or explanation. I worry it means I’m boring.

Me: ‘I know my German’s pretty good so it’s not like people have no idea what I’m talking about but I always feel like Germans don’t understand why I’m telling them whatever I’m telling them. They just stare at me.’

Ralf: ‘Your German’s fine. You’re just used to all that nodding and babbling the Americans do instead of paying attention. Whereas the Germans actually listen to what you’re saying.’

I never thought of it that way. I mean, I’ve experienced something similar in a professional context, having worked for German bosses. But socially I figured I was just boring, like steamed broccoli over brown rice.

Heck, I wish he’d mentioned this eight years ago. I’ve probably been the life of the party all this time without realizing it.

But anyway, although I miss him and have a rough week in front of me as a single working parent I find it far less stressful when I’m not the one traveling. More about my travel Angst here.

The house feels big and lonely but it’s not all bad:
The toilet seat stays down.
I don’t have to cook.
I can watch Buffy reruns.
I can wear my blue underwear with the little elephants on them.
(For some reason, that’s not Ralf’s favorite pair.)

Just as it was my job to provision the house for a 2 week famine slash toilet paper strike before I went back to California, Ralf also has several jobs before he can leave:
Give the girls a bath.
(They might not get another one until he gets back.)
Make sure the car has gas and windshield wiper fluid.
Change the litter.

When I was gone the local moms rallied around the single dad – Germany is a patriarchal society, which means the women think the men are totally useless and coddle them. In fact, the legendary sternness of German women is typically only for other women. So I expect no such help, although I do have a girlfriend or two for emergencies.

Actually it's not that bad, it's just that if someone is at all stern to begin with speaking German will push it to the next level.

For some reason this thought makes me tired. Or maybe I'm tired because it's 10 PM and I had a long day. Anyway, I'm off to bed, if K and L (who get to sleep in our bed when Ralf is gone) have left me any room.

One last thing: Check out Strange Shores - Ladyfi has just posted her regular blog carnival for expat blogs featuring ‘the very funny Honeypiehorse’ (that’s me) and a deeply disturbing picture of a three-headed horse.

Good night.

On language

Thank you Irmie for making a topic request. This is the first time outside of work I’ve been asked to write about something – I feel like a real writer now!

Irmie wanted to know more about the bilingual habits of our household, so here goes.

When I first moved to Germany I took language lessons but it was slow going. More about that here, if you’re interested.

However, I had various jobs that required me to speak German and over time I achieved a level of functional fluency, the sort where I could call someone an idiot quite plainly but couldn’t say something like, ‘When you sit down, do you get a headache, you chimp?’

Now I can, although it’s more likely to come out like, ‘When you seat yourself, do you feel any pain in the head, you monkey?’

Anyway, my improvement rate slowed dramatically as soon as I got good enough to say what I wanted to say and hit a plateau for a year or so. My German was good enough to get by professionally so I stopped working on it. I spoke German only in a professional setting or with friends but never at home or with Ralf and felt fairly lame and un-funny when I did speak it.

Then when we got an offer to live in California for a year or two (which turned into three) I worried that I would lose all my hard-earned language skills. K was two years old and just starting to talk so I also worried that she would not be able to speak German when we went back. I was eight months pregnant and about to go on maternity leave so the first thing I did when we arrived in California was to organize intensive Berlitz German lessons, six hours a week, for a month and a half until L was born. This bumped my German up a notch.

To keep in practice and make sure K wouldn’t have huge culture shock when we went back to the Vaterland, I resolved to speak only German with K while in California. I kept this resolution until about six months before we were to return, figuring at that point the mold had been cast and what mother doesn’t prefer to speak her native language to her children?

It worked. K learned English at pre-school but her mother language was slightly-off German with weird faux-Scandinavian pronunciation. But it was enough to fit in when we returned and since then she’s improved apace in German Kindergarten.

L was a slightly different story. I spent more time with her as a baby while K was in pre-school and spoke English with her, figuring that by the time we went back to Germany she’d just be starting to speak so could learn it there. And of course, she heard me speaking German to K. But her German is not as good as K’s and she’s more likely to speak ‘Dinglisch,’ which is a hybid between English and German. Then again, she’s only three so I’m not too worried about it.

R for the most part spoke English at home unless I reminded him so it’s pretty much been me keeping the German flame alight all these years. When their German grandmother notices some linguistic peculiarity of theirs I glare at him soundly and the perfect son shrugs back innocently. He is perfectly happy to let me shoulder the blame for our kids’ funny accents.

Today both girls attend a German Kindergarten so we are again an English-speaking family.

Ironically, now that we’re back in Germany my German’s slipping again.

March 14, 2009

Interesting statistics

Now, when I say 'interesting', I don't mean like the number of Chinese honor students (soon to be higher than total American students, I'm afraid) or the number of American universities that offer courses on how to use an iPhone (although Debbie might have that information).

Instead I'm talking about my own blog statistics, which is way more interesting.

If you use Google blogger, you should try Google Analytics. It's just chock full of information like:

How many hits I get a day - I average around 40;

What countries people visit my blog from - 26 countries;

What sites people link from - it varies;

And what my most popular posts are - for some reason Eat, Pray, Love is top of the charts right now.

But the most interesting information is the list of search criteria people used to find my blog, if they used a search engine. Looking at this list I realize that I've blogged on a variety of topics, from German husbands to dental surgery.

Here are just a few examples:

'Are German men good husbands?' - I wonder what she decided.

'My feet are the same German funny' - Thank you!

There were also 'Unreasonable fear of dentists' and 'Blood poisoning after gum graft' - It seems there's a viable blog niche for scary dentsts. What do you think, Maven?

'How to sew a witches hat' - Needless to say, this person bounced immediately, presumably to the blog of someone who can actually sew.

'Made to lick my wife’s feet' also didn't stick around long.

And finally, 'Indiscreet quotes "lobster"' - I wonder if this person found what they were looking for.

And you thought I wasn't paying attention.

March 13, 2009

Going the Distance

R, who I heart because she's very funny, has tagged me for another blogging prize that represents 'Brilliant Content or Design', which I'm not sure is deserved but I'll take it.
Now I'm supposed to tell you 10 things about myself and nominate 7 other blogs for the prize.
I'm going to cheat a bit, however, because I think that between my HS Questionnaire and the 25 Things About Me posts, and all the various rants in between, you probably have a pretty good sense of who I am by now.
And now for the 7 blogs that I think should be recognized for 'going the distance.'
Here are the criteria: The authors of these blogs post frequently and go the extra mile to research their topics, follow and/or comment on other blogs regularly to keep the Blogsphere alive and thriving, present highly unusual pictures or information that you wouldn't normally come across and/or use multi-media such as YouTube.
They also have not received the Honest Scrap Award before. At least as far as I know.
And finally, followers of this blog got somewhat preferential treatment. That may sound self-serving but with so many great blogs out there I needed to narrow it down somehow.
As someone who usually just sits down and types whatever occurs to me (I mean, I put some thought into word choice and I once went out and created an avatar for my post 'Is it just me?' but that's about it), I totally respect this kind of extra effort.
Oh, and although you're tagged, you don't have to do anything. Only if you want to.
Here are the Finalists - I hope that if you visit these excellent blogs you won't stop reading my blog, which is a risk because they're all way better, but I'm going to take that chance in the interest of artistic honesty:
Kristina: You're probably all sick and tired of visiting my blog and seeing yet another mention of Kristina but I can't help it. I have no idea where she comes up with her hilarious ideas or finds the totally outrageous pictures she posts, let alone where she finds time to read and comment on so many blogs every day, but there it is. I particularly enjoyed her Lifetime Movies post. And I also think that Chacon should hold a special place in blogging history.
Bernthis: Jessica not only posts highly comedic stuff on a regular basis, she also has her own YouTube series. Be sure to check out her Hitler Wax Job video.
Naturelady: I wasn't sure which of Naturelady's two excellent blogs to link to and ended up opting for her new cooking blog Borealkitchen, which features beautiful pictures, vegetarian recipes and a refereshing attention to 'sustainable food.'
The Dental Maven: TDM is a niche blogger - all things related to teeth. You would think this topic would be somewhat limited, but as you will see from her latest post about flossing monkeys, our choppers present a wide field of untapped literary possibilities.
Lucy: In addition to keeping up with her regular blog, Lucy transcribed the diary of her great grandfather Charles Harper, who actually went west with Brigham Young. How cool is that?
So, that's five. Now two Honorable Mentions for great recent posts that were well-researched and made me laugh out loud:
Debbie: A hard-hitting look into the crazy coursework offered in America's colleges and universities.
Lawyer Mom: A very funny account of her son's science project on Saturn's rings.
And one Special Mention for 'always reading the fine print':
Bebe - Read all about what she discovered about Snuggles.

March 11, 2009

The big rant against everyone

For the last couple of posts I've been somewhat caught up in saccharine and probably irritating reflections on the perfection of my offspring and yes, they're wonderful, but I'm over that now.
Because... I recently finished 'The Audacity of Hope' by Barack Obama and feel an overdue political rant coming on.
To summarize the essense of the rant: What a cluster%#*!.
To be fair, President Obama presents the facts with a great deal of respect and humor so I don't think this was the impression he was trying to leave readers with when they think about Congress and the other banches of government. He clearly loves the Constitution and is a devout believer in Democracy, despite a few regretable shortcomings.
Anyway, before I get on a roll and start thumping anything but a Bible, let me just say that the book made me feel deeply respectful of Barack Obama as a person and grateful that he's at the helm during the current crisis instead of yet another geriatric-and-out-of-touch-with-reality or young-but-completely-amoral Republican. Or - let's be fair - some other well-meaning-but-indecisive-and-waffly Democrat.
That wasn't the rant, by the way, I'm just getting started.
Now it begins.
The book made me think critically about things I was trying not to think about because they're gloomy. And these unintended reflections made me mad at a fairly large cast of characters:
At the Bush government for systematically making poor short-sighted choices that brought a thriving economy to its knees and put - not to be too melodramatic here - the survival of the human race up for grabs. Yeah, sure, there were insustainable factors in place that made some sort of correction inevitable but looking over the last eight years is like watching an alien come to earth disguised as the President (and let us not forget the Vice President) and gently nudge everything toward a speedier collapse so they can take over when we're gone.
At the American people for voting for him twice. I'm going to generalize broadly here (because this is a blog and not a dissertation, which would require a little more fact checking on my end) and separate these people into two categories: the poor and the rich.
First the poor: I find it ironic that the people who have been hurt the most by Bush policies were also some of his staunchest supporters. People who go to church and probably try to lead decent lives but are unknowingly hindered by the fact that they believe gay marriage is a viable platform to base a Presidential campaign on and that Bush's tax cuts were intended to help them. As I look around at the state of the world I think they almost deserve what's happening to them now because they helped bring it on themselves.
But not quite. Because they were seduced by very clever people whose watches cost more than their annual salary. (This is my rant against the rich, by the way.) People who sell out their employees to drive the share price up a few pennies before cashing out. Who don't want to pay a penny in taxes to the society that provides the infrastructure that allows them to live like they do. Who knew how to tap into the social power of the church for their own ends.
Speaking of which, I'm mad at organized religion, for butting into politics and choosing the wrong side. Yet again.
This might be a good time to mention that I'm a conservative Democrat who left organized religion behind years ago when I decided that unless the minister had God on speed dial, he probably didn't know any more than me about His intentions.
I'm mad at Congress for being so totally lame.
I'm also mad at the rest of us, who passively sat by or even actively contributed to the mess with our self-centered, wasteful lifestyles. I include myself in this list, by the way. I'm no poster child for enlightened living.
And finally, I'm mad at the rest of the world for starting pointless wars over non-essentials and failing to read the writing on the wall and behave better than the US.
Did I forget anyone?
So basically, I'm pretty much mad at everyone except my kids, who didn't create any of these problems but will inherit them.
Does anyone actually believe we'll never run out of stuff? That if we poison all our water and air we'll still be able to drink and breath? That it makes sense to increase the use of resources we know are running out? That money doesn't have to be backed by anything real? That a tiny super-rich elite surrounded by unrelieved poverty is a sustainable economic or political model? That the current status quo is still an option?
I doubt it. I think that most people, like me, try not to think about it because it's gloomy.
The good news is that President Obama gets it. Let's just hope he can persuade the rest of us.
To end on a lighter note, the current situation reminds me of an old joke: Earth and Mars are chatting and Mars asks Earth how she's doing. 'Not well,' moans Earth. 'I have a bad case of humans.' 'No worries,' says Mars bracingly. 'That goes away by itself.'
Let's hope it's just a joke.

March 10, 2009

Clarification on Broccoli Brownies

Just a quick note to clarify a few points of confusion and address several comments and questions:

1) I blend the broccoli to a pulp before adding it to the brownie mix. I use it instead of butter.

2) Litlove, I doubt it would fool a 14-year-old. But try it, you never know. Spinach also works - in fact, I kind of like spinach brownies. And you can tell him it's a pot brownie.

3) Maven, good point - plain old broccoli would be far less disgusting but there you have it. There's no accounting for taste.

4) And a final note about K - she liked fruit and tolerated veggies until she turned 3 and then overnight refused to eat them any more. Juice and yogurt, too. Her explanation (now that she can talk) is that she doesn't like wet food, although she likes ice cream just fine. Go figure. I can usually compel her to eat a small portion of carrots or cauliflower if she wants dessert but she won't snack on apples, grapes and bananas like other kids. But she's healthy so I don't worry, I just content myself with creating really bad memories of her mom's baking skills so she can, I dunno, roll her eyes at me in high school or something.

And if you want more sneaky recipes, check out Jessica Seinfeld's cookbook Deceptively Delicious.

Broccoli Brownies

I design software, which means I work with a lot of developers. Developers are a bit like locusts, by which I mean they are lovely people who graciously eat all of my failed baking experiments. In fact, in my 12+ years designing software I have only discovered two things developers won't eat: plum pudding and those strange sweets from India that look like they're made of tin foil.

Kids are more like really picky locusts, that is to say that they'll eat a lot of something only if they like it. And my kids are no exception. K in particular has boycotted all fruit and if I want her to eat vegetables I have to make it worth her while with chocolate rewards. So I've adopted the trick of hiding berries and broccoli in brownies, which works surprisingly well.

Yesterday I got a bit carried away and added an entire package of frozen broccoli and another entire package of frozen organic blueberries to some brownie mix and baked it up for the kids. However, we had a guest from Ireland over and even after all these years living in Europe I still get distracted by a nice European accent. And I think we can all agree here (unless you're, like, Scottish or something) that the Irish have a nice way of speaking.

Anyway, long story short, the brownies ended up a bit overdone.

So, overcooked broccoli brownies. Yum. Thinking to myself that I have finally found the third thing developers won't eat I offered one to K, who loves brownies. She dove right in but after the first couple of bites she fixed me with a strange look, as if she knew I was up to something.

Her eyes looked very green and knowing. I knew she was on to me.

To distract her, I said, 'Darling, you're hair's getting so long.' This is not actually true but it seemed to work. She finished the brownie, chewing slowly, and gave me that shrewd, thoughtful look again.

Then she asked for another one!

So, my child ate broccoli today. Once again, I can't believe how much I rule!

March 9, 2009

Conversations with Boobies, Part III

My life is not always smooth sailing. It’s not easy to work, be a mom and run a household on a budget.

Most of you know this first hand.

I think I do an OK job on most fronts - give or take the odd failure - but none of this is easy.

And living in Germany doesn’t exactly make it easier.

The upside of this is that stressful situations can be highly comedic.

Usually much later.

I have my dreams. Even a few fantasies about how my life might have turned out differently.

More glamorous.

But I really, really love my kids. There’s no fantasy life I’d trade them for, no way, no how.

Here’s the latest installment of Conversations with Boobies.

For prior Booby sightings click here and here.

K (in a loud stage whisper in front of our chain smoking electrician): He’s going to die soon.

Me (to L as she tried on her new gold ballet shoes): I missed your chubby little feet so much!
L: My chubby little feet missed you, too.

PS I wouldn’t trade Ralf either, not even for one of my secret boyfriends . He may not have Miss Piggy feet like L but he’s 6’4’’, can do any accent (including German) AND he bought me a new family-sized washing machine while I was in California so I can wash more than 2 pairs of socks at a time.

So all in all, glamorous fantasy lives are overrated.

March 8, 2009

Reflections on Nun Blowing

I'm back in the Vaterland after a productive week and a family weekend. Once again I can nuzzle my babies' lovely soft hair when I kiss them good night. Thank goodness.

My multi-flight trip to Ventura from SFO via LAX for my grandma's birthday was completely uneventful, as was my flight back to Munich. My grandma is in great shape for 90 and we even saw a few whales.

The biggest excitement was what I think of as 'The Nun Blowing Machine' at SFO security.

A bit of background on this: I gather nuns can't be searched like the rest of us and they also wear rather voluminous garments so they're a potential security hazard. The comprimise between religious expression and national security is to run them through a big expensive machine that jets air up their skirts and does a chemical analysis - just in case they're fake terrorist nuns with bombs.

You can't be too careful.

Anyway, I got to watch 4 scandalized Spanish brides of Christ clutch their flying wimples and make their way through the machine.

The hills were alive with the sound of squealing nuns.

Think Marilyn Monroe with billowing skirt meets Mother Superior from the Sound of Music and you've got the full visual.

It was surreal.

Not to mention pretty sad that we need a $500,000 machine to check nuns for bombs.

March 4, 2009

This blog's got lemonade

Is lemonade like cowbell?
But seriously, I was just sitting around feeling sorry for myself because instead of flying home to my boobies tonight I have to do a crazy planes, trains and automobiles journey for my grandma's 90th birthday. I love my grandma and enjoy hanging out with my family but I'm also very ready to be home and I have a LOT of STUFF to carry.
I also have lots of presents which the airlines will probably lose.
And then Naturelady awarded me the lemonade award for great attitude.
This is my very first blog award. I'm sure there will be many more but this one will always be special.
So I guess I'll skip the bitchfest and focus on the positive, which is:
I fly home Friday.
My boobies are fine.
Ralf has been wonderful this week.
I've had a good week.
I had a chance to spend time with most of my favorite people.
I have fantastic colleagues.
I got carded at Target.
What's a little schlepping two enormous heavy suitcases all by myself through 3 different airports compared with all that goodness?
Now the rules of engagement for the lemonade award dictate that I pass along the lemonade award to 5 other bloggers who also have great attitude.
This is very difficult because all the blogs I follow have great attitude so I may have to flip a coin or something.
And some of you have already been nominated so you're out of the running.
Anyway, here goes:
1. Charlotte: No contest. Charlotte has a great attitude about everything and it shines through in everything she writes.
2. Kristina: I love Kristina's blog and look forward to each posting. And I've finally decided after much reflection that she's not evil, just really, really funny.
3. Debbie: Debbie is also very funny and her insights about just about everything are well worth reading.
4. Emily: Emily is a role model for all of us the way she copes with three kids and various daily challenges with great humor and even greater humanity.
5. Ralf: Ralf is not a blogger but I think he deserves an award for his masterful single parenting this week. I hope the rest of my bloggie peeps don't mind making way for him just this once.

March 2, 2009

Busy days

You'll all be happy to hear that L has been found. I got a new picture of her yesterday so Ralf isn't just making it up.

I also went shopping galore and finished off the evening with a good friend, her lovely daughters and a bottle of wine. Not a bad way to spend an evening. I discovered that advanced HS classes in the US require students to watch Saving Private Ryan and read. . . oh, heck, what was it? Something way too advanced for me, I can't even remember the title.

Today I have various meetings with customers and colleagues but as far as I know, none of these meetings will involve any of your husbands.

This post is really just an excuse to tell you all that I got CARDED yesterday at Target. I think it's part of their new policy to improve sales. It worked for me, I threw in an extra pack of gum out of sheer gratitude. And I didn't just show my driver's license to the cashier, I also generously showed it to the people behind me. They were very grateful.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, this never happens in Germany, where the legal drinking age is something like 14.
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